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In the 2014 annual budget, the Modi government allocated 2000 crore INR for the “Aadhaar” project. With the current critical assessment of this project, the first question that daunts is – “Is the allocation of such a huge sum on this myopic project justified?”

It is ironic how “Aadhaar” which literally means support or foundation, actually stands on a platform of myths. Aadhaar project was initiated as a transformational project to uniquely identify each citizen of the country so that each group has better access to public services. On the contrary, as of now, Aadhaar lacks legal or statutory authority and is being operated without any Parliamentary approval. Consequently, the Supreme Court declared that Aadhaar cannot be made mandatory for availing public services in India, thereby beating the very purpose for which it was initiated.

Aadhaar project would have been successful if it had restricted itself to the role of providing a UID. However a “scope creep” made Aadhaar record the residential address and this is where UIDAI fell into a trap. The major shortcomings of the Aadhaar project was a myopic vision which failed to realize that millions of Indians live all their lives on the streets and there is no way to verify their addresses, since they have never had a permanent address. Most of the farmers and labourers do not have fingerprints of the quality that can be captured. In fact, there are even people who have applied for more than one Aadhaar card and if the system allows even one such instance, the Project has failed its purpose. More importantly, the absence of Data Security laws makes sensitive personal details vulnerable as a result of which, the AADHAAR number is not recognized as legal proof of residence. Moreover, there have been accusations of mismanagement and that of people are getting UIDAI by paying a meagre amount at the enrolment centres without valid documents. The final nail in the coffin of Aadhaar was the extreme mismanagement of the Aadhaar issuance process which was a nightmare. Ineffective communication, incomplete planning, ill-trained staff, badly designed software and inadequate computing and communication infrastructure made sure that (a) most people could not get cards and (b) the credibility of the card was compromised beyond repair.

One cannot but wonder what logic justifies the Rs 2000 crore investments made into UIDAI, especially when a similar project, National Population Register (NPR), which also collects biometric data, already existed in India. The current budget allocation of 2000 crore can be only justified when it is utilised to correct the above fallacies and provide a genuine identity to citizens, which will reduce the burden of government expenditure on subsidies and entitlements up to 10%. Aadhaar will continue and in fact, will be the foundation for the fundamental reform of public delivery in India if the government does justice with these 2000 crores and the 600 million people who have already registered.


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